Sunday December 9, 1:30 PM
What's wrong with the Canadiens? Let me count the ways.
-they can't win at home
-they can't win key face offs
-they can't score
-they can't kill penalties
-they can't (won't) fight
-their goalies have caved
What did I miss?
The Habs have no home identity-other than the "history" in the soon-to-be 12 year old Bell Center. Opposing teams dictate play. And with little or no physical fear they pretty much do what they want. Playing the Canadiens in Montreal has become ultra-comfortable. A pro sports sin. The only response the Habs have is to hope their goaltender out-plays everyone. From John Ferguson to Pierre Bouchard to Rick Chartraw to Chris Nilan to Lyle Odelein, every successful Montreal team has had a cop, a cop who could play. Some winning teams featured 4-5 guys who could fight. (The last Cup team in '93 featured Odelein, Todd Ewen, Mario Roberge and the league's best middleweight-Mike Keane.) This bunch? I'd rather see PJ Stock out there 3-4 minutes a game than Mark Streit. (I like Streit-as a power play specialist and role player. He gets way too many minutes of ice time).
The stat sheet (always be wary of the Montreal sheets) says the Canadiens won 60% of their face offs vs Carolina. Fact is, other than Koivu, Habs' centermen have been pretty dismal this season. Hard to comprehend with three of the best face-off men of their respective eras behind the bench. Lack of success in the face off circle also explains, partially, the woeful PK record.
I'm not enough of an X's & O's student to further explain the PK problems. Again, with Guy Carbonneau, Doug Jarvis and Kirk Muller to teach, it would be difficult to believe it's poor coaching. And it hasn't been the fault of the goaltending. Kyle Chipchura, Brian Smolinski, Tom Kostopolous and Steve Begin have been the go-to players on the PK unit. Chipchura will be fine but it's not often a rookie is handed that kind of responsibility. He's made some (rookie) mistakes. Smolinski, on the other hand, looks done. He doesn't win battles one on one or along the boards. Unlike Begin and Kostopolous he doesn't block shots. He's been a solid NHL player for a long time but this is beginning to look a lot like Janne Niinimaa revisited. (Which brings us to another area of concern for Hab fans-pro scouting. Ultimately, it's Bob Gainey who rightfully takes the heat for poor signings/trades. But a constant during the Gainey regime is Pierre Gauthier, who's title is assistant GM but who, in essence, is their top pro scout. Among the NHL players brought in during his watch: Radek Bonk, Todd Simpson, Mike Johnson, Sergei Samsanov, Niinimaa, Josh Gorges, Smolinski and Kostopolous. Those in a hurry to see Gainey go should shudder at the prospect of Gauthier as GM in-waiting.)
We knew goal scoring, especially five on five, would be tight for this team. But who could have possibly predicted that Michael Ryder would be stuck on three goals less than a month away from the all star break? It's sad to see. Sadder still is the pssibilty that his NHL career has already peaked. Shoot puck. Score goals. That's his job. He can't skate well or check and has possibly the worst hockey sense of any forward on the team. Shoot puck. Don't score goals. No job.
Goaltending, as mediocre as it's been lately, is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. Carey Price will be fine. He's discovering that NHL shooters are pretty good. Rod Brindamour alone in the slot can pick a corner a lot faster than the typical AHL'er or Junior player. It's part of the learning curve.
Captain Koivu? Struggling to be sure. A goal here or there would help but remember first and foremost he's a playmaker. What I look for from Koivu is if he's putting the puck on the stick of his linemate(s), and whether it's Higgins, Ryder, Streit, Smolinski or whomever, he's getting that job done. Of more concern is that he looks a step or two slower.
Maybe it's just the late fall blahs, weeks ahead of the Christmas swoon. And what looks piss-poor right now will eventually be straightened out. Until then the Habs will likely drop lower than 8th. Perhaps to 10th or 11th. And two or three games later jump all the way to 6th. The only thing we know for certain about this team is they can't play with Detroit. So they have a lot of company.
In the meantime, Bob Gainey has to find a couple of bodies with some size and toughness and talent. That's all. And he has to find this player or two by himself.